The topic of this lecture is History and Development of the Ministry of Lay Liturgical Leaders. The purpose of this lecture is to develop the knowledge and appreciation of the participants regarding the origin of Lay Liturgical Leaders and their role in the Church. This lecture presents: the Development of Lay Leadership, Church Documents on SCAP, and Lay Liturgical Leaders in the Diocese of Marbel.


Lay ministry is a new category of service in the Church. For many centuries, it was thought that ministry and service in the Church belonged mainly to the clergy and the religious and that the lay people have very little part in it.

Luckily, with the coming of Vatican II, some changes were introduced into the church. Some functions which formerly were reserved only to the ordained clergy were now opened to the lay faithful as well. In the liturgy, among the functions that were allowed to the laity was that of the server, the lay reader, the cantor, the extraordinary ministry of Holy Communion, etc. In these new functions both men and women were admitted to participate.

The GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal 2002) has coined the term “Liturgical ministers” to refer to all who perform services during liturgical celebrations. Among those who belong to this ministry are the “Lay Liturgical Leaders.”

In previous years various names were given to those worked in the ministry. They were called ‘Lay Ministers (LM),” “Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (EME),” “Extraordinary Ministers of Communion (EMC),” or simply “Eucharistic Ministers (EM).” In most dioceses in Mindanao, they are still called “Kaabags”; while in the Diocese of Marbel, they are called “Lay Cooperators” or simply “Layco” for short.

The GIRM, however, preferred to call them “Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC)” and urged the use of this term instead of the old titles EME or EMC. In our case, we shall continue using the term “Layco” to differentiate this group from a new group called ‘Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEM)” or “Eucharistic Ministers (EM).”

History and Development of Lay Liturgical Leaders


The history and development of the ministry of Lay Liturgical Leaders can be traced back to the reform made by Vatican II especially on the participation of the lay faithful in the life and mission of the Church. Other factors are the emergence of the BECs in t he Church and the development of the Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest (SCAP).

Development of the Sunday Liturgy in the Absence of a Priest (SCAP)


  1. The move to adopt the “priestless Sunday services” to difficult missionary situation started about 65 years before Vatican II
  2. The Sunday liturgy presided by a lay catechist was first introduced in Burundi, Africa in 1898, soon after its evangelization. The practice became obligatory by 1943 in places not frequented by missionaries. In 1946 the Propaganda Fide gave its stamp of approval. Madagascar and Togo followed the example of Burundi in 1930, and the practice quickly spread to most of the African churches.
  3. Churches in other third-world countries have known the practice for several years. In Latin America one can name Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama. In Asia we have, among others, India, Indonesia and of course, the Philippines.
  4. But the Sunday liturgy presided by a lay minister is not exclusively a third-world phenomenon. Churches in European countries like Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and England have also adopted the practice.

Church Documents on SCAP

  1. The practice received a favorable response from Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, art. 35 no. 4: “Bible service should be encouraged on Sundays and holidays, especially in places where no priest is available.” In 1963 the Instruction “Inter Oecumenici,” no. 37, changed the word “bible services” to liturgy of the word, thus establishing the practice as a liturgical celebration.
  2. In 1973 the document “Immensae Caritatis” allowed lay persons to give Holy Communion as extraordinary ministers within the Mass and even outside the Mass on Sundays. Thus the practice developed the Sunday liturgy into a full celebration of the Word with Holy Communion.
  3. In 1988 (June 2) the Congregation for the Divine Worship addressed the issue and issued the Directory for Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest. This is the document that serves as guidelines for the current celebration of SCAP.
  4. Added to this, in January 2001, the CBCP, in its Plenary Meeting, approved the revise and enriched version of the Order of Celebration of SCAP. This document was carefully prepared by Paul VI Institute of Liturgy headed by Fr. Anscar Chupungco, OSB. This is now the Directory that we are using in the Philippines.

Other Lay Liturgical Leaders

  1. According to the GIRM other lay liturgical leaders which can be called to help distribute communion, are the Religious Brother or Sister, the Instituted Acolyte and Instituted Lectors, catechists and any lay person with good religious background and standing in the community. But these persons may be called only for special occasions and circumstances.
  2. But what is important to consider is that lay ministers should appear to the eyes of the community as ministers of the Church, acting in its name under the authorization of the Bishop or the parish priest, and hence, able to preside at the Sunday Liturgy of the community.

Prepared by: Fr. Romeo Buenaobra (DLC Director)

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